Letter 3966

Date 29 October/10 November 1889
Addressed to Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich
Where written Moscow
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Pushkin House), Manuscript Department (ф. 137, No. 78/21)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 3 (1902), p. 328–330
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том XV-А (1976), p. 204–205
К.Р. Избранная переписка (1999), p. 73-74

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
29 окт[ября] 1889 г[ода]
Москва, Пречистенка, Троицкий переулок, д[ом] № 6'

Ваше Императорское Высочество!

Испытываю чувство горделивого сознания, что превосходное стихотворение Ваше создалось отчасти вследствие моих прошлогодных писем к Вам. Не знаю, отчего Вы могли предположить, что мысль этой пиэсы может мне не понравиться; напротив, — она мне чрезвычайно нравится. Не скажу, чтобы у меня в душе хватало любвеобилия и всепрощения настолько, чтобы всегда любить колотящую ручонку; весьма часто приходилось парировать удары и в свою очередь быть рассердившимся ребёнком, — н, тем не менее, не могу не преклоняться перед силою духа и высотой воззрения тех исключительных людей, которые, подобно Спинозе или Гр[афу] Л. Н. Толстому, не различают злых и добрых и ко всем проявлениям людской злобы относятся именно так, как это высказано в Вашем стихотворении. Спинозу я не читал и говорю о нём с чужих уст; что касается Толстого, — то я его бесконечно читал и перечитывал и считаю его величайшим из всех писателей на свете бывших и существующих теперь. Чтение это, независимо уже от потрясающего художественного впечатления, вызывает во мне ещё совершенно особенное, исключительное, им одним только вызываемое чувство умиления. Умиление это я ощущаю не только, когда происходит что-нибудь в самом деле трогательное, напр[имер] смерть, страдания, разлуки и т. д., но при эпизодах, казалось бы, самых прозаических, обыденных и пошлых. Напр[имер], припоминаю, что однажды, по прочтении той главы, где Долохов обыгрывает в карты Ростова, я залился слезами и долго не мог их унять. Почему сцена, где оба действующие лица совершают поступки весьма не похвальные, могла вызвать слёзы? Причина, между тем, очень проста. Толстой взирает на изображаемых им людей с такой высоты, с которой люди эти кажутся ему бедными, ничтожными, жалкими пигмеями в слепоте своей, бесцельно и бесплодно злобствующими друг на друга, — и ему жаль их! У Толстого никогда не бывает злодеев; все его действующие лица ему одинаково милы и жалки, все их поступки суть результат их общей ограниченности, их наивного эгоизма, их беспомощности и ничтожности. Поэтому он никогда не карает своих героев за их злодейства, как это делает Диккенс (тоже, впрочем, весьма мной любимый), да он никогда и не изображает абсолютных злодеев, а лишь людей слепотствующих. Гуманность его бесконечно выше и шире сентиментальной гуманности Диккенса и почти восходит до того воззрения на людскую злобу, которая выразилась словами Иисуса Христа «не ведают бо что творят».

Не есть ли стихотворение Вашего Высочества отголосок этого же высшего чувства гуманности, которое так пленяет меня в Толстом, и могу ли я не восхищаться мыслью, лежащей в основе Вашей пиэсы? Что касается формы, — то она вышла, безусловно, прелестна. Эти сменяющие друг друга различные трёхсложные стопы совершенно очаровали меня. Вы доказали, что русский язык гораздо более гибок, чем думали наши стихотворцы, и что нет никакой необходимости держаться безусловной равномерности и правильности ритмических последований в стихе. А какая прелесть ямб (в первом стихе меня, во втором — мой и т. д.), попавший в компанию трёхсложных стоп.

Я горжусь, я торжествую, я радуюсь смелой инициативе Вашей и умоляю Ваше Высочество продолжать опыты подобного рода. Если позволите, сделаю маленькое замечание. Мне не совсем нравится слишком близкое соседство двух И («И если вдвойне» и т. д. и рядом почти: «И как не простить» и т. д.) Быть может, одно из этих И можно переделать в но?

Известие, что Государь удостоил спросить обо мне, глубоко радует меня!!! Как понять вопрос Госдуаря о мелких пиэсах? Если это косвенное поощрение меня к сочинению подобных вещей, то при первой возможности я займусь ими. Мне ужасно хочется написать какую-нибудь грандиозную симфонию, которая была бы как бы завершением всей моей сочинительской карьеры, — и посвятить её Государю. Неопределённый план такой симфонии давно носится у меня в голове, — но нужно стечение многих благоприятных обстоятельств для того, чтобы замысел мой мог быть приведён в исполнение. Надеюсь не умереть, не исполнивши этого моего намерения.

В настоящее время я совершенно поглощён здешними концертами и приготовлением к Рубинштейновскому юбилею. Вчера успешно дирижировал 2-ым концертом Музыкального общества.

Покорнейше прося передать мои приветствия Великим Княгиням, имею честь быть Вашего Высочества покорнейший слуга.

П. Чайковский

29 October 1889
Moscow, Prechistenka, Troitsky Lane, House No. 6

Your Imperial Highness!

It fills me with a sense of pride to know that your splendid poem was created partly as a consequence of my letters to you last year [1]. I don't know what made you assume that I might not like the underlying idea of this poem — on the contrary, I like it very much. I won't claim that my soul is sufficiently full of love and all-forgivingness to allow me always to love the little hand that strikes me. Very often I have had to parry such blows and in my turn acted as an infuriated child myself — but still I cannot help bowing before the strength of mind and elevated outlook of those exceptional people who, like Spinoza and Count L. N. Tolstoy, make no distinctions between the wicked and the good, and who treat all manifestations of human malevolence with the same attitude as that which is expressed in your poem. Spinoza I have not read myself and am merely repeating what others have said about him; as for Tolstoy, though, I have read and re-read him endlessly, and I consider him to be the greatest of all writers who have ever existed in this world and of those who are now living. Quite apart from the staggering artistic impression which his works produce, reading him also elicits in me a quite special, exceptional feeling of emotion which he alone is able to awaken. I am overcome by this emotion not only when something happens in his works that really is moving, such as someone's death, or sufferings, or a separation etc., but also when reading episodes which would seem to be the most prosaic, everyday, and banal that one could imagine. For example, I remember that once, after reading that chapter where Dolokhov fleeces Rostov at cards [2], I burst into tears and couldn't check them for a long time. How could this scene, in which both characters are doing things that are not at all praiseworthy, elicit tears? Well, the reason is in fact quite simple. Tolstoy looks at the people he is portraying from such a height that these people seem to him like poor, insignificant, pitiful pygmies, who in their blindness bear malice against one another quite pointlessly and fruitlessly — and he feels sorry for them! There are never any villains in Tolstoy; all his characters are equally dear to him and equally pitiable in his eyes, all their actions are the result of their general narrow-mindedness, their naïve egoism, their helplessness and insignificance. That is why he never punishes his heroes for their evil deeds, as Dickens does (whom, by the way, I also like very much [3] — indeed, he never actually portrays absolute villains, just people who behave blindly. His humanity is infinitely higher and broader than the sentimental humanity of Dickens and almost reaches up to that view of human malice which is expressed in the words of Jesus Christ: "[Forgive them,] for they know not what they do".

Isn't Your Highness's poem an echo of that highest feeling of humanity which so captivates me in Tolstoy, and if so, how can I not be delighted by the idea which underlies your poem? As for its form, that has without question turned out delightfully. Those alternating, different trisyllabic feet have enchanted me altogether. You have proved that the Russian language is far more flexible than our poets had thought, and that there is no need whatsoever to adhere rigidly to uniform and regular rhythmic sequences in verse. And what a delight that iambus is (in the first verse to me, in the second my) which finds itself in the company of trisyllabic feet.

I am filled with pride, exultation, and joy by your bold initiative, and I entreat Your Highness to carry on making such attempts. With your permission, I should like to make one small criticism. I don't quite like those two Ands being so close to one another ("And if afterwards"} etc. and almost next to that: "And how can one not" etc.) Perhaps one of these Ands could be turned into but?

The news that the Sovereign deigned to ask about me gladdens me profoundly!!![4] How should I understand the Sovereign's question about small [piano] pieces? If it is an indirect way of encouraging me to compose such things, then I shall occupy myself with them at the first available opportunity. I would very much like to write some grandiose symphony which would, as it were, be the culmination of my whole career as a composer, and to dedicate it to the Sovereign. A vague plan for such a symphony has been floating in my head for a long time, but many favourable circumstances will have to come together for it to be possible to realize my conception. I hope that I shall not die without carrying out this intention.

At present I am completely engrossed in the local concerts [5] and in the preparations for Rubinstein's jubilee [6]. Yesterday, I successfully conducted the Musical Society's 2nd concert.

After most humbly asking you to convey my greetings to the Grand Duchesses [7], I have the honour of remaining Your Highness's most humble servant.

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. In his letter to Tchaikovsky from Gatchina on 25 October/6 November 1889, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich had written: "Dearest Pyotr Ilyich, already last year, when we had that exchange of letters about poetic meters [see Letters 3574, 3578, 3589, 3651, and 3675], the idea imprinted itself in my mind of attempting, in accordance with your advice, to add greater variety to our poetic idiom. However, for a whole year I was unable to come up with anything and was already starting to despair of the possibility of making innovations when suddenly, after receiving your last letter, that is, once you had started the ball rolling, as it were, I managed to write a poem in a metre which isn't to be found in our rule-books. Let us not discuss the content of this poem — I think that you won't like its underlying idea, and that you will find it boring. However, I am curious to learn your opinion about its outward form and euphony — perhaps it will grate upon your ear and strike you as preposterous? Here are my verses: "O people! you've often wounded me so painfully; / Often have I shed tears in vexation. / And still I love you against my will, / O poor children of the earth! / The culprits of your own woes, you do evil, / Multiplying grief on earth with your spite, // And if afterwards your woes are twice as great, / I feel sorry for you as if you were small children. / And how can one not wholeheartedly forgive the blows of a child, / If it is beyond his powers to hide his anger? / His little hand may strike hard, / But how can one not love a child!". This is the first version of a poem which the Grand Duke would dedicate to Tchaikovsky and include in the cycle To the Poet (Поэту) in his next book of verse, Third Anthology of Poems by K. R. (1889-1899) [Третий сборник стихотворений К. Р. (1889-1899)], which came out in Saint Petersburg in 1900. Konstantin's letter has been published in К.Р. Избранная переписка (1999), p. 71-72.
  2. Tchaikovsky is referring to Chapters 13 and 14 in Book 2, Part 1 of War and Peace, where Nikolay Rostov loses all his money to the reckless Dolokhov and is thrown into despair at the thought of the pain it will cause his parents. See also letter 3210 to Yuliya Shpazhinskaya, 26 March/7 April 1887.
  3. Tchaikovsky had been an admirer of Dickens ever since his youth (when he read him in Russian translation), and in the autumn of 1883 he even started brushing up his English again by means of self-study, so as to be able to read Dickens in the original.
  4. In his letter of 25 October/6 November 1889 Konstantin explained that he was in Gatchina because he was on duty as aide-de-camp to Tsar Alexander III, and added: "The Sovereign asked me today whether there were any new compositions by you which I could play, and whether you had recently written some small piano pieces; I answered in the negative".
  5. Tchaikovsky had been engaged to conduct Russian Musical Society concerts in Moscow on 28 October/9 November, 11/23 November, and 25 November/7 December 1889.
  6. As part of the festivities held in Saint Petersburg to mark Anton Rubinstein's 50th anniversary as an artist, Tchaikovsky would conduct two concerts in the imperial capital on 19 November/1 December and 20 November/2 December 1889. The programme of each concert was drawn up from works by Rubinstein, and for Tchaikovsky, conducting his former teacher's oratorio The Tower of Babel, in particular, proved to be a very challenging experience.
  7. Konstantin's mother, Grand Duchess Aleksandra Iosifovna (née Princess Alexandra Friederike Henriette of Saxe-Altenburg; 1830–1911), and his wife, Grand Duchess Yelizaveta Mavrikyevna (née Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Altenburg; 1865-1927).